Vast Variation between Test Environment and Actual Use Consumers Should Not Solely Rely on the Claimed Efficacy of Disinfectant Cards and Badges

15 July 2020
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Vast Variation between Test Environment and Actual Use Consumers Should Not Solely Rely on the Claimed Efficacy  of Disinfectant Cards and Badges

Consumers have been snapping up disinfectant products since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. Apart from surgical masks and alcohol- based hand rubs, other products such as disinfectant cards and badges (disinfectant lanyards) claimed to be able to kill bacteria and repel viruses have come into the market. Some even flaunt that they can protect the users in high risk places such as hospitals and clinics. The Council surveyed 14 models of disinfectant lanyards products, collected and analysed information and test reports provided by suppliers. It was found that the claimed efficacies of these seemingly easy-to-use products were generally applicable only under certain specific conditions and there were some other things that users should also take note of. Moreover, the test environment set by the manufacturers were generally very different from the actual situation where the products were used. The justifications on product efficacy given by some suppliers were also implausible, making it doubtful in their actual efficacy. The Council calls on the public not to entirely trust the claimed efficacy of the products or overly rely on such products for epidemic protection so as to avoid lowering their due alertness in epidemic protection, thereby raising the risks to individuals and the society.

The Council also reminds parents to pay attention to the safety of their children on the use of these disinfectant lanyards products. The major component in the products was chlorine dioxide (CIO2) or compounds that would emit chlorine dioxide, which may have a pungent smell. A relatively high concentration of chlorine dioxide may cause irritation of children’s nasal cavity, respiratory tract, throat and eyes and cause watery eyes and coughs. If children touch these chemicals with their hands and subsequently take food without cleaning their hands thoroughly, there would be a chance that they may swallow the chemicals by accident. Theoretically, gaseous chlorine dioxide could be used for disinfection. However, its effectiveness can only be achieved only within a specific spatial area with its concentration maintained at a certain level for a specified time.

 Of the 14 models of disinfectant lanyards products surveyed by the Council, 11 were disinfectant cards, badges and bags while 3 others were pen or stick type products with prices ranging from $29 to $168, a difference of more than four-fold. The products claimed that their effectiveness could last for 2 weeks to 2 months after they were opened or being used. Only 9 of the 14 models suppliers acceded to the Council’s request before deadline to provide antibacterial and antiviral efficacies information of their products. However, the majority of them were unable to prove that the products could be able to eliminate a particular virus or reduce the infectivity of a particular virus under the actual use conditions.

Among the samples, 9 of them labelled an ability to fight against or reduce viral infection by using the wording such as “killing / eliminating viruses”. According to the information provided by the suppliers of 2 brands (3 different models), a bacterial virus called bacteriophages was used in the test to measure the level of virus reduced within a test chamber by the samples. For one brand, the sample was placed inside the test chamber for 24 hours prior to the start of the test. For another brand, the test began only after the concentration of the gaseous chlorine dioxide in the test chamber had reached a certain level. However, consumers would not normally place a disinfectant product in a location for it to release the disinfectant gas for several hours before visiting there, rendering the test inapplicable to actual situation.

In addition, information about anti-bacterial efficacy provided by the suppliers showed that the environment and conditions set for testing the products differed vastly from reality. For example, in 2 disinfectant stick/pen tests, a total of 5 and 6 disinfectant sticks/pens were used at the same time. Yet the advertisements of these 2 models suggested that a user would normally need only 1 stick/pen. The Council is of the view that without a clear elaboration on the labels, it would be misleading for manufacturers to advertise on the efficacy results that were conducted in a controlled environment which was vastly different from the circumstances of real-life usage. Regarding one model’s claim on its label of “kill germs 99.9%”, the supplier’s report showed that during the test a total of 25 packs of the product were used, achieving an average bactericidal rate of 85.3% after 4 hours, apparently lower than what the label had claimed about its effectiveness. The Council is of the view that all information on the labels must be evidence-based and has forwarded the relevant product information to the Customs and Excise Department for follow-up.

 The test reports provided by the suppliers of 3 models had included the test results of both their test samples and the test control of “ natural reduction” so as to allow comparison between the test samples and the test control in term of their disinfection efficacy. 3 to 4 hours after the commencement of the test, the quantity of airborne bacteriophages/staphylococcus aureus in the test chamber of the test samples were reduced by more than 99.9% but the difference between the test samples and their controls were merely less than 5%.The efficacy of the samples was not that obvious even when tested under the conditions set by the suppliers. As the tests were carried out in a confined space, the results should not be used to evaluate the antiviral efficacy in real-life situation. Even if the sample could be able to release gaseous chlorine dioxide continuously, the gas would disperse in the natural environment or would be blown away. It might not be able to reach a concentration level that could eliminate viruses and bacteria. The efficacy of protection against the epidemic was very limited in real-life situation.

Consumers usually wear the disinfectant lanyards when going out. The Council reminds users to read the labels, in particular the “restrictions of the products”. 4 models advised consumers not to expose the product under the sun while moisture and strong wind would also affect their efficacy. Certain products suppliers even told the Council that using their products outdoors was not recommended. If consumers fail to pay heed to these restrictions and believe that the products would “protect them from all sorts of viruses and bacteria” while going outdoors or even follow the product descriptions to use the products in vulnerable places such as hospitals and clinics, they may run a higher risk of contracting the virus due to their lowered alertness.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) said in March this year that disinfectant lanyard products were not registered and their safety and efficacy against viruses had not been evaluated. The agency emphasized that unregistered products could be harmful to health and might not be effective against pathogenic microorganisms. The USEPA and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control have not listed such products or their active ingredients as an effective disinfectant or ingredient against the coronaviruses. Japan’s Consumer Affairs Agency also stated that there was no evidence to support that spacial air disinfectants such as disinfectant lanyards would be effective in preventing coronavirus infections.

 Furthermore, the labelling on some disinfectant lanyard samples was far from ideal. The user instruction and/or product information of 7 models was printed in Japanese only. Consumers would find it difficult to understand and follow the directions for use. Consumer must not rely solely on these lanyards as the only form of protection against infection. All proper hygiene measures, such as wearing a suitable face mask; washing hands frequently; using alcoholic based hand sanitizers; and keeping the environment and surroundings clean, should be adhered to.

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